People Behind the Shows: Landing an A380

Date 21.3.24
So, as I return to my desk in the office and watch a falcon of drones transform into a plane, and land on a runway, I am reminded this is something I’m not sure most people will ever get the chance to experience in real life.”
NameIzzy Webb
RoleCreative Assistant

It is three months since I joined SKYMAGIC as a Creative Assistant, and already I’ve witnessed some pretty astonishing things. From my first week watching our Greggs drone show in Newcastle (sausage rolls flying overhead) to creating 2D drone renders for one of our residency shows in Dubai that attracted millions of viewers on social media. It’s safe to say that joining the SKYMAGIC team is a completely unique experience…

When I was asked to go to Abu Dhabi for a week to support as a drone camera assistant on SKYMAGIC’s most creative and complex project yet, I couldn’t say no. The brief was crystal clear, “We want to create a fully 3D A380 plane, in 1750 drones, and land it on the airport runway.” Although understanding the magnitude of this, I don’t think I fully comprehended the level of technical and design detail needed to achieve this. After weeks of intense rendering from the 2D and 3D animation teams to create each scene of the narrative, we were off.

As I entered the hotel following our flight landing, I was greeted by a wave of black t-shirts with ‘SKYMAGIC Drone Team’ adorned across the backs, the production team was already in full swing. From drone camera crew, pilots to producers, SKYMAGIC had assembled the best of the best to the action and they were all getting ready for their call to site – which for my role was 11:30pm to 6am every night. Although a challenging re-adjustment to office hours, it was the only time that allowed us to temporarily close the airspace of the North Runway at Abu Dhabi’s brand-new Terminal A each night.

Arriving on site at the airport for my first shift, the first thing I noticed was the sound. The whoosh of an aircraft above going over our shuttle bus as we arrived at the production compound next to a military base positioned at the side of the runway. Or the vast desert-like landscape that spread out far beyond our site tents. And immediately, the buzz of excitement and anticipation that filled the air as we attempted something that had never been done. My role on site was Assistant to the Drone Camera Team or, more plainly, a runner – which as it turns out required a lot of actual running… As well as the massive fleet of 1750 drones, we had drone camera teams from the US, UK and UAE who filmed the show from multiple angles to create the final cinematic piece. The film was directed by Mark A. Ritchie who, as I found out, directed pieces for Beyonce such as the new Renaissance film (to which I hid my excitement well).

For the three nights I was on set, I spent time with each drone camera team making sure they’d completed their pre-flight checks, supporting their production needs (such as ensuring they had working radios), as well as all the timings and information they needed from the run of the show. I then collected all the footage after every flight to go to the digital imaging technician on site.

However, more interestingly I got to know each team and how they are able to work on some of the most amazing projects across the world. One of which was Jay Christensen from Minnesota (aka. JayBryd), who had worked on projects like filming U2 at the Las Vegas Sphere, shooting the Rihanna Savage Fenty film and a short piece called ‘Right Up Our Alley’ which made waves for its creative use of an FPV drone flying through a busy bowling alley. And of course, his love for all facts on Minnesota (which most importantly included that it was where Snoopy is from).

Seeing the drone performance itself can only be summed up with a single word: huge. On the first night I was there to watch and learn, with the drones lifting into the air at about 4am, myself watching in total immersion. On night two, I was given a radio, and I quickly became aware of all the inner workings taking place behind the scenes. A radio channel for the show call, a channel for the drone camera crew, a channel for when I undoubtedly stepped out of radio range and needed rescuing. Having individual channels for separate teams all sharing critical information was something new for me to comprehend, immediately amping up the excitement of the situation. I was no longer blissfully unaware of the inner workings behind each flight, I was in the depth of the action.

As the production unfolded, everything ran to perfection. The drone camera team undertook some exhilarating flight paths to capture daring shots, one of which included flying through the window of the drone plane and hovering over the wing. I watched the shot after the flight, crowding around a screen in the video village with all the other pilots who were congratulating each other – impressed by what they’d captured. We all went back to the hotel with smiles from ear to ear despite the lack of sleep.

In the hours that followed the edit began and in less than 48hours from our final flight a beautiful film (view here) had been published across social media, viewed by millions, and shared a celebration events for the inauguration of Zayed International Airport.

After the production wrapped, the UK-based creative team were given the opportunity to explore cultural sites around the UAE as part of our ongoing development. We visited The Louvre and The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and the Museum of the Future in Dubai, taking in the grand architecture that these spaces offer. The common thread between the drone shows and all these incredible sites was scale. The magnitude of what we’d done weirdly only seemed to hit when seeing the territory in which we were performing. My background before joining SKYMAGIC was working in a small gallery in Yorkshire (UK) where creativity was contained within the four white walls of the space. At SKYMAGIC, there isn’t really a limit. Creativity can exist in skies anywhere – whether above an airport runway, the main stage of Coachella or at Mount Fuji – you can find out more about those projects here.

Reflecting on my experience as one player in a much bigger team, I realised that everyone who works for SKYMAGIC has their own role to play and is a total mastermind in their craft. It is the most insane creative vision that unites us. So, as I return to my desk in the office and watch a falcon of drones transform into a plane, and land on a runway, I am reminded this is something I’m not sure most people will ever get the chance to experience in real life. I’m grateful that I did.





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